My unease came not from the funeral itself, but from the fact that the service was clothing optional. Sweltering under the noonday sun in my suit and tie among naked or might-as-well-be-naked mourners on the private Malibu beach, I resisted the urge to chug the one-liter bottle of chilled water I held unobtrusively at my side.
At a nod from a Bible-toting pastor in a paisley thong (how many beers will it take to expunge that image from my mind?) the band launched into a dirge, conjuring the solemn procession that crested a nearby dune and crossed the blazing sand.
Glug’s widow Suki sashayed in the lead, wearing black flip-flops and a tankini that exposed pink crescents of aureola on either side of two straps the width of fettuccine noodles. Tamping down WILF-y thoughts, I hoped the beach bunny had used sunscreen. It would be criminal for a ripe peach like Suki to hit thirty looking like a California raisin.
Behind her, six pallbearers shouldered a neon-green surfboard with the urn of Glug’s cremains on top and trailing in their wake, the rest of the Wave Masters formed a bronzed honor guard. All nineteen surviving members wore black banana hammocks and sported identical tattoos: a replica of Glug’s signature green board encircled by the words Ride Heaven’s Waves Forever.
Designed by Suki, who had also created the psychedelic images on the group’s surfboards, the tattoo had been inked by a Santa Monica needle boutique offering a group discount.
The M.E. had viewed Glug’s smashed skull as the probable result of a violently flipped board during an attempt at an aerial, and ruled his death accidental, but three niggly details prevented my buying his interpretation. In an interview years earlier, veteran wave-rider Glug Beeman had cautioned neophytes against surfing solo. Jellyfish stings, shark interactions or cramps could turn fatal in the absence of a buddy, he warned. And yet, his corpse and his board had washed up all by their lonesome on this very beach, the tide erasing any footprints left by a surf partner.
Glug’s life insurance had recently been upped to one million by wifey, who bought the coverage through a different company from the one that had issued the couple’s mutual $100,000 policies. Suki was maybe five-two and, realistically, could not have wielded the board which had brained her hubby and retained traces of his blood along one fiberglassed edge. Smelled like an accomplice, possibly a lover, and if Glug always surfed with a buddy, the killer was among the nineteen remaining Wave Masters, despite each having denied being with him that day.
Positioning myself for a glance at each man’s right shoulder, I counted nineteen tattoos as the processional approached a cleared circle of sand. Problem was, when I interviewed the stoner who had inked the surfers, he confirmed receiving the artwork from Suki and prepayment for the tats. All eighteen of them.
The killer wouldn’t want a permanent reminder of Glug spoiling his enjoyment of the insurance money and smokin’ Suki, so one of the tattoos was bogus, probably painted on by the artistic widow herself.
She spooned the urn’s contents into snack-size Ziplocs, handing one to each Wave Master. As the men strode toward the rows of surfboards standing at attention in the sand, intent on paddling out to scatter Glug on the waves, Suki uttered a heartrending wail. A sun-bleached Greek god called Stingray tossed his bag like a Hacky Sack to the guy next to him and hustled to her side. As she went convincingly limp, Stingray swept her into a protective embrace, signaling the others to go ahead while he consoled their fallen brother’s beloved.
That’s when I rolled into action, unscrewing the cap of my water bottle as I rushed the murderous lovers. With his eyes closed and his fingertips grazing those crescents of pink, Stingray never saw me coming, and by the time he reacted to the icy arc of Aqua Fina, neon green streaked his upper arm and I had already pulled out the cuffs.